U.S. Crypto Legislation Makes Headlines

U.S. policy on cryptography both in relation to export but more significantly in relation to domestic use generated considerable media interest in the past month. In testimony on September 3 before the Senate Judiciary's subcommittee on technology, terrorism, and government information, FBI director Louis Freeh asked for the ability to decrypt intercepted telephone conversations, with proper authority, as they occur. Shortly thereafter, amendments were offered to the Security and Freedom through Encryption (SAFE) act, H.R. 695, in the House Commerce Committee, that seemed to be intended to provide the desired access to the FBI. These amendments provoked a storm of protest, including a joint letter from relevant committees within the AAAS, AMS, ACM, AAAI, IEEE, FAS, CRA, Sigma Xi, and serveral other professional societies, and a joint letter from more than two dozen law professors. On September 24, the committee rejected the proposed amendments and instead passed a version of the bill doubling the penalties for using encryption in the commission of a crime and establishing a new FBI technical center for surveillance. Those interested in more details on the SAFE bill may wish to visit: